Paul "Hank" Preston:|
(Hillbilly Music, 2020): Paul Hank Preston's earliest memories of country and western music take him back to when he was about four years old, living on his family's dairy farm in Norwich, Vermont, where he was born. His family did the milking very early in the morning and they had a radio in the barn. Hank's brother, Roland, used to tune in the radio to popular country shows of that time in our area.
One of those popular artists then was "Georgia Mae, the Little Cowgirl with the Big White Guitar" on radio station WBZ, out of Boston, Massachussetts. The two brothers also listened to "The DownHomers" who were featured on WKNE from Keene, New Hampshire. Back then, "The DownHomers" featured "Yodeling" Kenny Roberts on their shows.
Another local favorite was Jimmy Packard. Jimmy was a teenager at this time and had a live radio show over WNBX, Springfield, Vermont. Jimmy lived in Wilder, Vermont and was extremely popular on the radio in that area back then.
In the early 1940's, the Preston family moved to West Lebanon, New Hampshire. The family continued to listen to country music broadcasts over the radio such as the Grand ole Opry and The World"s Original WWVA Jamboree, which aired from Wheeling, West Virginia.
When Hank was 10 years old, his parents bought him a ukelele. He took it upon himself to start learning cowboy and folk songs. On his sixteenth birthday, his mother and sister gave him his first guitar. It was a mail order guitar from the Spiegel catalog company. The guitar's tradename was "Old Kraftman" and was manufactured by the Kay Guitar Company.
Hank started taking guitar lessons from a Mr. Conrad Goodrich in Wilder, Vermont. Hank considered Mr. Goodrich was one of the finest stringed instrument teachers in New England. He studied with him for almost two years. However, because Mr. Goodrich did not care for country music, young Hank felt that he needed to branch out on his own and learn from the local musicians.
He wasn't the only family member to study with Mr. Goodrich. His sister, Helen Smith, also studied the mandolin and tenor banjo with him.
Hank was in high school when he formed his first country band. The band included His sister Helen on the mandolin, David Loomis on the autoharp, Jimmy Adams on the slide guitar, Carl Galfren with the accordion and Billy Poland was the lead vocalist. Hank played rhythm guitar and did vocals, too. The band was basically a bluegrass band patterned after Roy Acuff and his Smokey Mountain Boys, one of the popular Grand Ole Opry acts at the time.
Due to various commitments, that band broke up soon after it was formed.
By the summer of 1954 and still in high school, he reorganized the band and they played their first dance job at the Grange Hall in Cornish, NH. This band was known as "Paul Preston and his White Mountaineers". It was while playing dances there that Goerge Holt, a friend of the family joined the band playing electric rhythm guitar and upright bass. George helped Paul to play country music the way the professionals played it. Under George's guidance and the addition of other musicians our band started to take form and popularity.
The band was being booked on local shows, benefits and dances. Paul learned to call square dances - almost a necessity then as square dancing was very popular in those days.
By this time, he felt he was quite capable of handling the band and hired various musicians. In his senior year, Shawn and Bill Gaudette came into the band. Shawn played the accordian while Bill played the harmonica. Paul's sister, Helen, changed from the mandolin to the tenor banjo. The band was an authentic "hillbilly music" band. This band stayed together from 1955 to May 1956.
But that type of music was losing popularity due to rock and roll music that was sweeping the air waves and capturing the attention of the younger listening audiences. Country music itself was also changing. It seemed the pedal steel guitar, lead guitar and fiddle was not the basis of a good country band.
At this time, Paul met lead guitarist, Leon Fournier who was to become a strong influence on Paul as well has his style of playing. Leon played single string lead on the guitar, but not only played country music, he also played rock and jazz swing music.
Leon asked me to join his group, "The Valley Boys". Besides Leon, Alan Bigelow played drums and did a great job singing Elvis's songs. Paul played rhythm guitar and did the country vocals.
The Valley Boys played every Saturday night at the American Legion in Lebanon, NH. They also worked as a backup band for a touring talent show. Their first show was in White River Junction, VT. The following week they played for the talent show in Windsor, VT. At this time, the show manager asked the band to go on the road with them as a regular part of their show. Paul was very pleased at the opportunity, but Leon and Alan both had good jobs and could not travel on the road. Paul had his first opportunity to become a road musician.
Playing in this band allowed Paul to do a good deal of practicing with Leon and helped him learn a variety of musical styles. Paul mentions he continued to use Leon's style of guitar playing throughout his musicial career.
Paul's musical career took another step in 1957 when he decided to start the original "Hank Preston and The Stony Mountain Drifters" band. This band included his wife, Doris "Bunny" Preston playing lead guitar. Bunny played in the style of Luther Perkins, who was Johhny Cash's lead guitar player. Willie Higgins played drums and Paul/Hank played rhythm guitar and covered the vocals.
Later, Ted Lee, a local teenager, joined their group as the featured vocalist and played the flat-top guitar. Ted's voice was a tenor and fit in well on the group's harmony singing. Ted did not have any band experience, but they felt he had great potential and worked with him to help him become a good performer. Their instincts proved them right as Ted was well accepted by their audiences and they were getting increasing numbers of show and dance bookings at this time.
However, tragedy struck the following year when Ted's father passed away. His Mother sent him to New York state to work for his brother there. But Ted continued his musical leanings and started playing guitar with his cousin, Louie Sargent. Louie was a professional guitarist and taught Ted considerable about lead guitar playing. In the fall, Ted returned home and showed Hank what he had learned. Hank and Bunny decided that Ted should be their lead guitar player while Doris took up playing the upright bass, which she perferred to the guitar.
For a number of years this band played throughout the Twin State valley area.
WVTR RADIO SHOW
White River Junction, Vt.
In the spring of 1964, "Hank Preston and The Stony Mountain Drifters" were featured on a Saturday morning live radio show. We appeared live on "Uncle John's Country Corner" radio program broadcast over WVTR, White River Junction, Vermont. The band at that time consisted of Ted Lee, my nephew Stanley Smith, Ralph Moody, my wife, Doris and myself.
But having live bands on this station became a problem due to the fact that the radio station studios were small and there was not room to have so many musicians waiting to their shows. Besides Hank's band, "Sid Grose and The Country Harmony Boys" also played a live show there. After their contracts ran out, the station manager decided not to renew the contracts.
The band began to change with the expiration of the radio contract. Ted and Ralph left to form their own duo act.
Ted Lee was replaced by Bob Morrison. Bob played guitar in the style like Don Rich, Buck Owens' lead guitarist. Bob also became their lead vocalist.
ALL STAR JAMBOREE
In June of 1964, the All Star Jamboree show began in Hartland, Vermont at the Hartland Fairgrounds. This was an outdoor country show presenting big-name acts touring the area as well as local bands. WVTR radio disc jockey, "Uncle John" Brunnel managed this show and also played fiddle in his band known as "Uncle John's Country All-Stars" which also included Buddy Jones along with Bob and Gracie French, well-known bluegrass musicians.
Uncle John asked that Hank's band serve as the opening act for those shows. Also appearing there was "Duke and his Swingbillies", who had a television show over WMTW-TV, Poland Springs, Maine.
One Sunday, bluegrass legend, Mac Wiseman was the guest artist. After his afternoon appearance, Hank visited with Mac about his career. He told how he had worked for Bill Monroe along with Lester Flatt and Earl Scruggs. Mac explained he later decided to become a solo entertainer and for many years appeared alone.
While working on the All Star Jamboree, Hank met Jimmy Stephens from the WWVA Jamboree. Jimmy Stephens and his band "The New England Country Gentlemen" were a regular act on the WWVA Jamboree. Jimmy asked Hank if he was serious about a career playing country music. Hank told him he most certainly was. As a result, Jimmy asked if they would like to go to Wheeling and appear on his portion of the WWVA Jamboree. He explained that he wanted them to join him as his opening act and if they were received well on their Jamboree appearance, he would have his manager book the band to work personal appearances with him.
Hank was excited about the opportunity and presented the offer to the band at their next rehearsal. But Bob Morrison said he could not go onto the road as he was planning on getting married and did not want to be a road musician. As a result, Hank and the band chose to not take Jimmy Stephens' invitation. Shortly after this episode, Bob left the band and Hank quit playing on the All Star Jamboree. At this time, Hank was discouraged about playing music and was about to quit the business.
A friend of Hank's, Russell Williams asked him and Doris to come play with him at the 484 Steakhouse in White River Junction, Vermont. During their time with Mr. Williams, they went to the Lone Star Ranch in Reeds Ferry, New Hampshire, one sunday afternoon. They arrived there a little late and Hank did not notice who was the featuerd artist of the day. During the jamboree portion of the ranch show, Doris and Hank sang a song that had been recorded by George Jones and Melba Montgomery. After we finished and left the stage, Melba Montgomery came over to them and told them how much she had enjoyed hearing them do the song. She said that when she and George had recorded the song, the record company thought that it would be the "A" side; however, it turned out that the flip side, "We Must Have Been Out of Our Minds" became the hit.
Melba also remembered that they had been the opening act when she played the All Star Jamboree. The words of encouragement from Melba were what he needed to hear at this time, as he was still thinkong of giving up on his music efforts. On the way home from the ranch Hank told Russell and Doris. "If Melba thinks we are good, then I am going to keep on playing". He notes, it is amazing how events can affect our decisions.
Throughout the 1960's Hank continued to perform in bands and also put together another band. In 1969, Hank moved to Bellows Falls, Vermont. At this time he joined the "Norm LaFlam Trio". Norm played pedal steel and Alan Bridgeau played drums. Hank stayed with Norm for several years as they played personal appearances around southern Vermont.
In 1972, Hank moved to Loudon, NH due to a job change that also meant he couldn't keep up his musical leanings for a while. Then in the mid 1970's Don Colby contacted Hank and asked him to be a part of his band, "The Village Ramblers". Hank played steel and lead guitar for Don's band for about two years. The band regularly appeared at the Moose Club in Concord, NH and throughout sdouthern New Hampshire. Don finally disbanded the group and instead joined a popular group, "The Country Playboys".
In the early 1980's, Hank began playing steel guitar for Johnny Guitar. Johnny was a popular country singer in the area. Johnny had Leo Fortier playing drums in their trio. For two summer seasons they played in the White Mountains at the Mount Moosealauke Inn, located in Warren, NH. They also played many club dates.
They also appeared on the Circle 9 Big Red Barn Sunday afternoon jams. This show was run by Clyde Joy, TV personality who used to be on WMUR-TV, Manchester, NH.
In 1982, Hank formed his own band again, "The Westboro Express". This band was made up of Sonny Davis, rhythm guitar and vocals, Leo Fortier on drums, Larry Stimpson playing pedal steel and Hank played the electric bass. The band played numerous engagements throughout southern New Hampshire for about a year. Then Hank moved to Tampa, Florida.
He joined the Classic Country Music Association of America in Tampa. This club meets once a week and plays classic country music. It is a variety of musicians ranging from players who have worked on the Grand Ole Opry to regular local musicians like myself. Hank met Shirley Escribano at one of these jams in 2003. It rekindled some memories for Hank as he realized that Shirley used to appear at the Lone Star Ranch in New Hampshire. In theose days she was known as "Little Shirley".
Shirley had been well known in the 1960 and 70's throughout Vermont and New Hampshire. Shirley wanted to play in a band so Hank formed another group called "The Westboro Express" along with Louie Murray on the fiddle, Maurice Benjamin on drums and Doris playing bass. I played lead guitar and steel. We did a number of shows until Shirley's health took a turn for the worse. Shirley passed away in Apri1,2004. Hank chose not to continue the band at this time.
Hank then became a member of the "Nashville Legends" show band in September, 2004. The "Nashville Legends" is made up of legendary lead guitarist, Howard Photon, Nashville songwriter, Larry Kirby, Chance Chaulder, vocalist, Scott Caldwell playing drums and myself on the electric bass. At the time of this writing, we are currently taking bookings in the Tampa Bay area.
Timeline & Trivia Notes
Hank Preston's first band (unnamed)
Paul "Hank" Preston, rhythm guitar, vocals
Helen Preston, mandolin
David Loomis, autoharp
JImmy Adams, slide guitar
Carl Galfren, accordion
Billy Poland, lead vocalist
Hank Preston and his White Mountaineers
Group Members (circa 1955):
Paul "Hank" Preston
Helen "Honey" Smith
The Valley Boys
Leon Fournier, guitar
ALan Bigelow, drums
Paul "Hank" Preston, rhythm guitar, vocals
Hank Preston and the Stony Mountain Drifters
Group Members (circa 1964):
Paul "Hank" Preston
Doris "Bunny" Preston
Ted Lee, guitar, vocals
Norm LaFlam Trio
Group Members (circa 1969):
Norm LaFlam, steel guitar
Alan Bridgeau, drums
Paul "Hank" Preston, guitar, vocals
The Westboro Express
Group Members (circa 1982)
Sonny Davis, rhythm guitar, vocals
Leo Fortier, drums
Larry Stimpson, pedal steel guitar
Paul "Hank" Preston, electric bass